Wearables — Are They Here to Stay?
It is rare that a blog will answer the question in its title in the first paragraph – but it’s safe to say that, yes, wearables are, indeed, going to go the distance.
Their current ubiquity alone tells us that the tech items that clasp to our wrists, clip to our belts and strap to our chests are evolving from niche to staple. And the size of the market itself -- $20 billion in 2015, but scaling to nearly $70 billion in 2025, according to IDTechEX -- is a clear signal that Enterprises must once again gear up to develop apps and messaging that utilize this unique real estate.
Alas, wearables are very different animals compared to what programmers or designers have dealt with in the past when creating web or mobile apps. The main considerations, as usual, are the ones that affect the most important assets in the experience; the user.
Most of today’s wearables manufacturers have “locked down” the OS and interface to their own proprietary software and the few that allow for third-party apps – particularly, smart watches such as Apple Watch, Android Wear, Pebble Time – are still defining their true value proposition in the market. A quick poll of smartwatch wearers here at iTexico finds that the productivity and health applications are among the most useful, but note that the typical first-generation annoyances -- battery life, limited apps and add-ons, and the premium price – inhibit their utility and enjoyment of the devices.
Nonetheless, it’s critical that Enterprises move now to be ready to deliver an experience to the wearable user that both complements and leverages the format, and delivers a value-added experience.
We’ve put together the following list of five UX/UI considerations that should be at the fore of your thinking about app development for wearable technologywearable technology:
1. Always consider the user’s context
Where will your user be consuming your content, and under what types of conditions? Remember, the goal here is to get the user to “glance and glean” the information your app is offering, quickly and efficiently. The same goes for more specialized wearable devices like activity monitors or health devices, which need to rely on virtually no input from the user to meet their functionality.
Whether they are used under high-stress circumstances, low-light environments or as part of more complex systems or workflows, wearable-specific apps, very much like mobile apps, should always adapt to the user’s needs to meet their goals and justify its value -- and not the other way around.
2. Focus on one thing -- and get it right
Specialization – the need to serve one master for their singular current need – is a key factor behind the rise in shrinking designs and form factors. The most effective apps for smartwatches, as well as mobile apps, are the ones that provide a great solution for a specific user need, instead of mediocre solutions for several needs.
3. Test and validate
A key part of the design process – or indeed, any process that derives from the scientific method -- is to validate hypothesis before drawing conclusions and implementing half-baked solutions into a working product.
That’s why anyone involved in the app development process should quickly validate – or let go when those assumptions are incorrect; then iterate a better solution through those key learnings. This will increase the overall possibilities of success in meeting business goals – and abet user goals as well.
There are many tools that are useful to validate these assumptions through prototypes. We personally like Invisionapp.com, which integrates well with Android Wear and Apple Watch.
4. Don’t make the UI overly complex
A common mistake when designing any interface for digital devices is to include many controls for what can otherwise be a simple approach to a problem. A professional product designer will understand which elements are needed to communicate and guide the user to complete their objectives faster and still delight them during their journey. As Albert Einstein said: “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.” This becomes even more important on small interfaces like smartwatches.
5. Plan for today, and plan for tomorrow
Sometimes, a great product can come with risky trade-offs if not planned properly. Part of designing an effective product includes the ability to look into the future and anticipate for things like hardware limitations, data consumption or scalability issues.
This becomes very important when working with wearable apps, since we are only seeing the beginning of it and hardware available in the market will most likely keep improving and changing in the coming months.
Good product designers will help you understand your product strategy with a design-thinking approach, and achieve the right balance between the business goals, the user needs and what is feasible through technology. If any of these do not align, then the formula will most likely require rethinking at some point during the growth of the product or as it gains traction.